West Brom: An Anti-Climax But Irvine Must Be Given A Chance
I’ve never known anything quite like it: the bitterness and infuriation surrounding West Bromwich Albion at the moment is quite incredible.
Last season’s underachievement has been a major cause of fan frustration, among other things, but the news that Alan Irvine will be the new head coach has fuelled even more anger. Fans are beyond fed up and are preparing a protest this weekend outside the ground, as they continue to feel disconnected from and ignored by the club. Certainly, the atmosphere has never been so intense in my time following West Brom and as season ticket refunds begin to mount, the team has six weeks left to prepare for the new season with a new man in charge.
After Pepe Mel parted company almost five weeks ago, there was a strong sense that the next managerial decision was going to be an extremely important one.
Following the season’s closure the chairman, Jeremy Peace, spoke about the need to put things right from the outset. The search for a head coach lasted a total of 33 days, although we’re told it didn’t officially begin until June 1st when Terry Burton was formally brought in as technical director to oversee the process.
A mixture of stellar names were linked such as Michael Laudrup, David Moyes, Giafranco Zola and of course Tim Sherwood, who looked all good to go just a matter of days prior to Irvine’s appointment. Sherwood was on the cusp of joining but contractual problems concerning his backroom staff arose and in the end he simply ruled himself out. I think most Albion fans were genuinely disheartened at that because there was a feeling that Sherwood could inject some belief and enthusiasm into a squad still recovering from a woeful 2013-14 campaign. He is young, British and has experience managing Spurs in the Europa League. To go from on the brink of Sherwood to Irvine in such a small period of time, when the latter was barely talked about as a legitimate candidate, was a case of going from one end of the spectrum to the other.
Irvine doesn’t exactly scream excitement. His CV is on the whole very poor and he has no Premier League pedigree in terms of head coach management. He was Moyes’ right-hand man at Preston then Everton and did a satisfactory job at Deepdale when permanently at the helm but Irvine endured a tough time at Sheffield Wednesday, suffering relegation to the third tier and subsequently getting sacked in 2011.
He returned to Everton in a coaching capacity to help with the development of their youngsters within the academy, and indeed he has considerable experience in working with young players. Irvine is said to have been heavily influential in the improvement of Jack Rodwell and Ross Barkley at Everton, the latter now in England’s squad at the World Cup, but for all Irvine’s impressive qualities at academy level, this matters very little when it comes to staving off relegation and keeping a team afloat in the top-flight. It’s all very well blooding through the younger members but Albion require someone with Premier League nous and knowledge in order to enforce their position in the division next season. So it is always going to be seen as risky in placing your trust in a coach whose record includes zilch in that respect.
Wouldn’t it have been refreshing to see Peace dip in his pocket and actually invest in a high quality, ambitious coach to take the club up a gear? He did just that with Roy Hodgson and his effect was monumental, so much so that it alerted the interests of England and understandably off he went. Steve Clarke worked wonders in his debut season but then failed to meet albeit lofty expectations. Mel’s appointment was all part of an adventurous ‘project’, which is all well and good, but just not in the middle of a relegation dogfight. And now we have Irvine whom Peace has so much faith in that he has handed him a 1 year rolling contract. This suggests that if Irvine struggles to make a mark (which is highly likely) then he’ll be packing his bags after 12 months and the technical committee will once more start a search for his successor. Where’s the ambition? Where’s the drive? Where’s the desire to bring in quality? I feel we are stuck in stagnation mode and while other sides are making astute, ambitious decisions – Southampton have hired Ronald Koeman, Brighton have hired Sami Hyypia – we are lagging way behind.
I do wish Irvine the very best in his reign, all Albion supporters do deep down. This entire situation really isn’t his fault as he walks into a poisonous environment and the vast majority of fans aren’t expecting him and the team to produce anything. Naturally he has leapt at the opportunity of bettering himself and potentially seeing his stock rise and who can blame him? He applied for the vacant position and to everyone’s surprise he has succeeded. But the frustrating thing is that there were much better options out there available to invest in and the club turned them down, in favour of the safer, cheap route at the expense of class.
Irvine’s job will essentially be to coach the players on the training field and select the match day squads. In terms of transfer activity, this responsibility will be with the technical committee and in particular Terry Burton and Richard Garlick. The pair will oversee player recruitment and it will be Irvine’s job to craft and mould these newcomers into an effective team. This is what having a 'head coach' system involves, whereby the coach sticks to coaching and has no input into the sort of personnel which is brought in.
Last summer’s business was frankly disastrous as the likes of Diego Lugano, Scott Sinclair and Nicolas Anelka were all signed up and the rest is history. Money was massively misspent and it is critical that it doesn’t happen again this time around because we need major reinforcements of the right calibre. 10 players have left us already and the squad is seriously depleted as things stand, so Peace has no choice other than to invest to simply fill out the numbers. The nucleus of the team is still relatively present – Chris Brunt, Graham Dorrans, Gareth McAuley, Ben Foster, Youssouf Mulumbu remain at the time of writing – but there needs to be some more meat on the bones.
Looking at the positives - as touched on, Irvine’s apparent understanding of younger players could well come in handy. The forthcoming season is going to be a vital one for the likes of Kemar Roofe, Donervorn Daniels, Bradley Garmston and Liam O’Neill in terms of breaking through into the first-team picture. Irvine’s assistance could help them grow and aid their development as they look to impress in pre-season. Not forgetting Saido Berahino, whose first season in the seniors was inconsistent but did show signs of promise and if Irvine can coax the best out of the striker then that would be something all Albion fans would truly appreciate.
We are all left feeling down in the dumps after such a shock and anti-climactic appointment, but I still subscribe to the theory that we should give Irvine a chance. The anger towards the chairman is justifiable but by getting on the new guy’s back all you’re doing is creating more and more pressure. The transfer market will be wholly important and will determine the make-up of the team heading into next year, while we still await the fixtures, kits and shirt sponsor.
Keep The Faith.